Romeo and Joliet

Thursday, July 18, 2024, 8 PM: If you haven’t heard, that nasty storm earlier this week knocked out the refinery in Joliet, Illinois. While the plan is to get the complex running again this weekend, this loss of supply has led to some short-term jumps in wholesale markets in the Midwest. Retail is following, and prices jumped to $3.79 in Michigan today. Could we see another hike before Sunday? Yes, we could. If so, I think they’ll keep it under $4. Will we see that hike? No prediction. -EA

Chicago, Land of the $4+ Gallon

Saturday, July 13, 2024, Noon: Greetings from Chicago, where gas prices are typically a half-dollar or more higher than the rest of the Midwest. This morning, I ran in the Big Ten 10K, and now it is time to discuss the latest with gas prices.

After a quiet first week of July (hooray!), we saw prices reset last week, up to around $3.75 a gallon. It was another one of those inflated margin hikes, this time led by Big Red, as I watched Big M on Lake Michigan Drive drag their feet for at least a day before matching the hike. On the other hand, the Costco that I monitor has gotten into the Game, posting a price of $3.43 yesterday, versus $3.06 a month ago, even though wholesale prices are practically the same today as they were then. Meanwhile, diesel prices are about a half-dollar higher than a month ago.

So, as I’ve written previously this summer, something else is in the mix right now. Even though wholesale prices have been stable, that may reflect that both supply and demand are changing in the same way. But more demand makes it easier for the stations to keep prices higher.

The plan this week? Stay away from stations asking more than $3.59 a gallon. Neighborhoods that include a K&G are the best. -EA

At Least We Are Not Paying $6 Per Gallon Right Now

Sunday, June 30, 2024, 4 PM: I have returned from a two-week vacation in Europe — my first trip to the continent. I tried not to think about gas prices, other than taking this photo in Linz, Austria.

Note that those prices are per liter, not gallon. One gallon is about 3.7 liters, so multiplying those numbers by 3.7, you are looking at around $6 a gallon. I have no idea what “AdBlue” blend is.

The other Gas Game-related disruption was tweets about our Gas Buddy about the out-of-nowhere hike on June 25. As noted in this tweet, yet another hike that is hard to justify, given our long history of monitoring gas prices. As I wrote in my last post, this year’s behavior suggests that there is some (new?) hidden variable to tease out of our Gas Game work, and right now I don’t know what that is. And yes, it could be simply greed, as major players test the market to see what they can get away with. Usually, there are some lower margin stations keeping prices in check, but not this summer in the Midwest.

So, what’s up for this week? With many taking a 4-day weekend for Independence Day, or even a 12-day vacation starting last Friday, I am expecting demand for gasoline to be higher, and that is going to keep prices from dropping much. Best to use crowdsourcing to find cheapest prices (and wow: $3.28 in Kentwood vs. $3.89 in Wyoming). I don’t have a clever fill-up-the-morning-of-the-hike prediction to make, but I will top my tank on Wednesday morning, just in case. -EA

What is the Hidden Variable in Gas Pricing Lately?

Comment on the June 9 prediction: Well, that was completely WRONG, as prices shot up to $3.69 before I spotted $2.99 anywhere. I think we got down to $3.06. Yes, that’s quite a range.

Sunday, June 16, 2024, 9 AM: To put it mildly, I was surprised as prices reset to $3.69 on Tuesday, June 11. I saw this number posted at a Speedway in Kent County at 7AM that day and thought someone had made a mistake. No mistake, and everyone appeared to follow suit, except for Costco which held near $3 a gallon, which is a good estimate for the 0-cent margin price. There are a few $3.19’s in Jenison this morning. And, in some places, it is cheaper to buy a gallon of diesel. That is rarely true.

Based on what I monitor when it comes to wholesale prices (e.g. NYMEX), last Tuesday’s hike didn’t make a lot of sense. But, I’ve been saying this for a while in 2024. We have watched Big M, Big Red, and their friends be more aggressive in their retail pricing in that price restorations. Instead of going from “no margin” to “some margin”, we have been experiencing moves from “some margin” to “a lot of margin”. That tells me there is some (new?) hidden variable to tease out of our Gas Game work, and right now I don’t know what that is. Are there some new costs in the system (e.g. transportation of fuel from refineries), some new direction from executive suites to squeeze more profits out of gasoline sales (vs. snacks and drinks), or soemthing else?

We won’t answer that question today, and as far as this coming week, as there is a lot of room between the Grand Rapids average of $3.61 and Costco-like pricing near $3, I think you can be patient to wait for lower prices. -EA

Back on $2.99 Watch

Commment on the May 27 prediction: CORRECT, as prices have drifted lower the last two weeks.

Sunday, June 9, 2024, 4 PM: There was news last week that ConocoPhillips is buying Marathon Oil. Will this affect the Gas Game? Probably not, because Marathon Oil is not the same as Marathon Petroleum, and the latter are the folks who have been in the lead with price resets here in west Michigan. However, we will keep an eye on this merger, as well as the Hess-Chevron merger, as fewer oil companies could lead to higher oil prices which would cascade to higher gas prices.

Short-term, though, we are on $2.99 watch, as wholesale prices have been sinking the past few weeks. Our friends at K&G are leading the way, as usual, posting $3.07 this afternoon at many of their stations in the region. Hey, Allendale, get with the program! $3.59?

Prediction: We’ll see $2.99 posted somewhere in Kent County. After that, the crystal ball is cloudy. -EA

Memorial Day Reflections on Gas Prices

Comment on the May 19th prediction: Absolutely CORRECT, as prices rose to $3.79 the following Tuesday.

Monday, May 27, 2024, 5 PM: On Thursday, with the Memorial Day holiday coming up, I was holding my breath about gas prices, because there was a strange spike in wholesale prices earlier in the week. The spike was due to problems at the refinery in Joliet, Illinois. By Thursday, though, the spike was dissipating, and maybe the pricing masterminds at the retailers started the weekend early.

Our Gas Buddy took a look at average retail prices on Memorial Day the past decade, and curiously, the list doesn’t tell a story of relentlessly rising prices. Instead, we see a wide range, starting with a spiky $4.82 in 2014 (which was the top price for that year), and going as low as $2.31 in 2020 (when the beginning of COVID led to deflation). The 2021-2022 inflation spike is obvious as prices hit $4.93 in 2022 (fueled by the early months of the war in Ukraine), but this year, we’re at $3.55 nationally, which is close to where we are currently in Michigan.

What’s the plan for this week? Oil prices are actually at their lowest since February right now, but that isn’t saying much, because they have been trading in a narrow range. Most likely prices will just drift lower through next weekend. Nevertheless, I had hoped to fill up at Costco this morning, at $3.18 or so. But they are closed for Memorial Day. Good for them. -EA

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